Following on from our In2Views article with award winning columnist, broadcaster and journalist Doug Weatherall, Original Fat Bob has once again met up with him as Doug recalls his days involved with football and sportsmen at the highest level. We delve into his diaries to reveal never before told facts and intimate stories, which helps to bring back to life what it was like to meet the footballing heroes and be part of the footballing community. Doug was lucky enough to be able to share moments in those great and heady days or commiserate at the dark times that often everyone in the football world endures. This first Diary post, is a view on the life and career of Mr Brian Howard Clough OBE.
OFB: What year did you first hear of Brian as a professional footballer?
DW: It was early in the 1956-57 season, my first as a full-time sports reporter. I’d returned to live in my native North-East from Manchester where I’d been a Daily Herald news man. All I knew about Brian was that he had begun the campaign out of Middlesbrough’s League side, having only tasted League Division Two action the previous season.
OFB: Did you read about him first or did you see him?
DW: My first real experience of him was the first Middlesbrough match I reported, Boro vs Grimsby Town on the night of Wednesday, September 12. From even early in the game I was taken up by him. He scored in a 2-1 win. My early impression of his play never left me. Indeed, I was so captivated by what I’d witnessed, I reported he was the most exciting player to enter a penalty area I’d seen in years.
OFB: Was he instantly recognizable as a footballer who was destined for greatness?
DW: Without a doubt. I could see that not only was he a terrific goal threat, he was also a fine leader of an attack, feeding wingers with sound delivery, as flank men Billy Day and Eddie Holliday were later to discover. It still irks me that Brian made only two appearances for the full England side. He didn’t score in those games but, given other chances to play, he would have extended his remarkable goals record to the international scene.
OFB: Did he try and emulate his style of play, on any individual player who played in his position?
DW: I was soon to do a comprehensive, exclusive interview with him, but there was no reference of effort to emulate any other’s style. While, with his typical frankness, remarkable for a 20-year-old, he told me who hadn’t helped him, he stressed who had, one of the two being reserve-team trainer Mickey Fenton, who, of course, had been a No. 9. He had also benefited from the advice of junior coach Jimmy Gordon, years later to be an aide in Brian’s fabulous successes as a manager of Derby County and Nottingham Forest.
OFB: When did you become friends?
DW: We quickly became mates after that first major interview. He must have enjoyed what he’d read! Obviously, I didn’t report all Boro’s games. The likes of Newcastle and Sunderland had to be covered, too. But often when I was assigned to Ayresome Park matches, I’d take with me my Dad, who lived in Seaham, County Durham. It seemed almost invariably that Dad enjoyed a Clough hat-trick. Brian said, “Keep bringing him!”
OFB: When the Boro and then Sunderland travelled for away games, did you meet up with them at the same hotel?
DW: I didn’t often travel to away games with Boro or Sunderland, but, when I did, Brian and I would try to socialise. Once when I motored to Edinburgh to cover a Hibernian v. Boro friendly he particularly welcomed a chat. That was in the Middlesbrough team’s strained atmosphere around the time when, scandously in my view, some Boro players signed a round-robin letter to the management, requesting that the captaincy be taken from Brian. No wonder he said the most happiness he enjoyed in his playing and managing career was as a player at Sunderland. Given that round-robin experience, I could understand his pride when Sunderland captain Charlie Hurley told him after a match at Plymouth, that it was great to have him in the side.
OFB: Did you have long chats with Brian about his football?
DW: Very much so. As I’ve often said, I believe he could have managed a team even when he was only 20. His perceptiveness was sharp even then. “Management,” he said after a few months as Hartlepool’s team boss, “is about judgement of players: those you have and those you want.” With outstanding buys like centre-half Roy McFarland for Derby from Tranmere Rovers he and his assistant, ex-Boro keeper Peter Taylor, underlined he practised what he preached.
OFB: Did they have nice hotels then or was it just bed and breakfast and did you stay at the same hotels?
DW: Of course. Both Boro and Sunderland were noted for looking after their players and, indeed, the travelling Press.
OFB: Did you manage to have a few drinks together?
DW: It has been known… After that Plymouth match and Charlie Hurley’s tribute, Brian was naturally in great nick and we downed one or two. And the Hurley words provided an exclusive angle for my Herald report.
OFB: What was his most memorable game, his own individual performance and your best experience watching him as a player?
DW: I just loved seeing his one-touch goals at the near post when Billy Day, for instance, would cross low from the right. I recall Newcastle fans saying after he’d scored a couple at St James’. “Well, he just had to knock them in from a few yards.” My answer to that: If it’s so easy why don’t more strikers get goals like that? Freddie Trueman used to dismiss tail-end batsmen regularly but didn’t other bowlers face tail-enders without equal success.
OFB: What was his worst game or experience, was it sustaining a career ending injury?
DW: The saddest sight of my 76 years of spectating and reporting football was of Brian, lying on an icy Roker Park, beating the ground with his right hand. He hardly ever missed a game through illness or injury, so I knew he was seriously hurt. His eyes on the ball as it came from the left, he stretched to make contact. Unknown to him Bury keeper Chris Harker was diving out to meet that ball. The cruciate ligament damage from the inevitable clash was to end a fabulous playing career. That blow affected Sunderland’s destiny. It delayed their promotion to the top grade long enough for stars like Hurley to be past their best by the time they were in the old First Division.
OFB: When he was injured, he coached Sunderland Juniors, were you still in contact with him during that time?
DW: Yes, his first crack at coaching was exciting for him and for those who saw a very young Roker side reach an FA Youth Cup semi-final for the first time. As we in the Press raved about the likes of Bobby Kerr in that junior team, I asked Brian who, in his opinion, was his top player. “Number 4,” he replied. He was talking about Colin Todd, the wing-half for whom he was to pay £170,000 – a whopping fee then – when he managed Derby.
OFB: Can you tell us any amusing anecdotes or pranks that he played? Or tell of his disciplinarian methods?
DW: Pre-season groups of playing staffs group photographs have been routine for years, but certainly a different one emerged when a Sunderland one was published. Brian was pretending to smoke a pipe. He liked a laugh. As a disciplinarian, he learned a lot from the manager who signed him from Boro. Sunderland boss Alan Brown was the most daunting man I had to deal with in football. But Brian noted his strength of character. As a manager himself, he told his players never to confront referees or doubt their decisions. Hence refs, were to say Brian’s Nottingham Forest players were the best behaved.
OFB: When he joined Hartlepool United as Manager, he famously took his PSV driving license so he could drive the team bus. Was that true, or part of his publicity for Hartlepool?
DW: That bus-driving certainly wasn’t a gimmick. That picture piece was another exclusive for me, this time in the Daily Mail. It wasn’t a publicity stunt. As Brian explained, if a bus driver was to take ill miles away from the North-East, how would they get home. He was a bright lad who, amazingly, had failed his 11-plus.
OFB: He took John McGovern from Hartlepool to all his clubs as a player did he really rate him that much?
DW: Not many people rated John McGovern in his early days as a Hartlepool United teenager, but Peter Taylor was the first to spot his potential. Eventually Brian – and I -were convinced of his ability. Then John was nearly to have aching arms through hoisting trophies for Forest. Now John, a lovely lad, does terrific impersonations of that famous Clough drawl.
OFB: What was his most memorable game as a Manager at Hartlepool.
DW: Brian’s most notable achievement at the Victoria Ground in my opinion was his success over the man who appointed him as manager. Chairman Ernest Ord was a formidable man. He could be really nasty. But Brian took him on – and Mr Ord departed. Brian’s legacy on leaving Pools for Derby was a team able to win promotion.
OFB: Did you get to know Peter Taylor very well?
DW: I got to know Peter soon after meeting Brian for the first time. We used to meet in the ice cream shop near Ayresome Park after they had trained. Over cups of tea was born one of the geatest partnerships football has known. That is where two great judges talked football, goalkeeper Peter having been among the first to recognise Brian’s great centre-forward play. Peter was amusing, but cunning. He seemed to prefer a dicey approach to a straightforward one to achieve the same object, just for the hell of it…
OFB: When he went to Derby as manager did you continue to report on his team and his performance?
DW: I maintained a strong interest in what he and his team did, but I didn’t report them often. I kept in touch with Brian, though, and, in effect, at times scouted for him. So well did I recommend Willie Carlin, of Carlisle United, to him that I was banned by the Cumbrian club. Carlisle turned down Derby’s approach for him, but accepted Sheffield United’s after persuading Carlin to reveal that I had tapped him on behalf of County. My Brunton ban didn’t end until Bob Stokoe replaced Tim Ward as manager. Carlin remains the only player who ever “shopped” me! Eventually, Brian bought him from Bramall Lane.
OFB: Who was in your opinion the manager that had the greatest influence on his career and why?
DW: As I mentioned earlier, Alan Brown underlined for Brian the value of firm discipline.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did he fear his team playing against?
DW: Brian respected teams and players but feared none. I’ve often been asked what was the secret of his success. The simple answer is that he had terrific talent. He was a genius as a scorer and as a manager. Certainly, as a manager of his best teams, he always said in advance of a game that he thought he’d win. “You don’t expect me to say we’ll lose,” he’d say.
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did he like his team playing against?
DW: He was always particularly proud for his teams to beat the Liverpools and Manchester Uniteds. I saw Derby, thanks to a McGovern goal, see off Liverpool to win the League title for the first time. I also saw Forest put out Liverpool on the way to their winning the European Cup. I know, too, that he and his Forest lads were thrilled to beat Man Utd 4-0 at Old Trafford. I recall that as an amazing show.
OFB: Who was his favourite player of all time and why?
DW: I think his boyhood idol remained his favourite. That was Boro, England and Great Britain inside-forward Wilf Mannion. Soon after making Trevor Francis Britain’s first £1million player I witnessed Brian saying to Trevor, “Come and meet someone who could really play.” That someone was Teesside’s Golden Boy. Old Boro fans wouldn’t disagree.
OFB: Did Brian talk to you about his time at Leeds? It was the only real setback in his career.
DW: Brian’s sacking at Elland Road actually made him an even better manager. Leeds honoured his contract to the penny and this gave him financial security for the rest of his career. Thus this man of immense strength of character, anyway, had even more self-confidence as he transformed struggling, second grade Forest into League champions and twice the tops in Europe.
OFB: That was probably his greatest success in winning the European Cup with Nottingham Forest – were you there?
DW: I wasn’t, but I was cheering at home as they won it and, remember, retained it.
OFB: Did you go away on holiday a lot together as a family?
DW: We didn’t holiday together. You probably remember my being pictured with Brian in Majorca, but, believe me, I was working! I was there because he was likely to be appointed Leeds United’s manager. He was then with Brighton.
OFB: You said previously, that you tried to get him to join Sunderland as a manager on a few occasions, can you elaborate?
DW: My greatest footballing regret is that he didn’t manage a big North-East club – despite my efforts. I set it up three times. And Brian would have loved to have managed Sunderland in particular. But their board preferred other people. The chairmen of Boro and Newcastle also told me they wouldn’t have him. And by the time Sunderland’s Tom Cowie wanted him – Brian was handed a cheque for him to write in a figure – the Cloughs were too settled in the East Midlands. Imagine what Brian would have achieved on Wearside. After all, he is the only person to have managed two clubs to the top League title who had never previously won one.
OFB: He had a reputation for being hard on his players but he made them into Internationals. Did he have a soft side?
DW: Players still swear by him. I could never forget the tribute Martin O’Neill paid Brian at a Pride Park memorial service. Martin said that without Brian, Forest wouldn’t have won a thing. A soft side? He was very thoughtful and sensitive. How could I ever forget that on the day he paid a record fee to take David Nish from Leicester to Derby he had dispatched to Shotley Bridge Hospital a lovely rose bouquet? The recipient was my wife, Edna, who, aged only 35, had had major heart surgery. She lived with happy memories of Brian and his wife, Barbara, until she died 18 years ago, aged 62
OFB: What do you remember about him the most?
DW: I can’t top my previous answer.
OFB: A huge thank you Doug for taking the time to open up your Diary and reveal this chapter to Diasboro and our readers.